Stop all the green and yellow Timex clocks. Put away that union jack tea towel. Stow the Pimms-sodden crash barriers at the foot of the Aorangi Terrace.
Andy Murray may yet play another Wimbledon this summer, depending on the state of his chronic, career-capping hip injury. But in the wake of a raw and tearful press conference on Friday morning it seems highly likely that next week’s Australian Open will be the final appearance of a stellar, transformative, broadly-sketched tennis career.
At the end of which Murray will retire as arguably the greatest individual British sports person of the modern age. Not to mention, in a surprising twist given his awkward, un-fluffy adolescence, perhaps the most widely loved, most uplifting and, in men’s sport at least, most politically progressive too.
As Murray is universally garlanded over the coming days there will no doubt be a wry smile or two among hardened tennis hacks who were there at the start of the Murray Supremacy, as an 18-year-old Wimbledon wild card back in 2005. The embryonic Murray was all talent, all potential; but somehow not quite cut from the same physical stuff as your average steamrollering alpha athlete.
For one thing Murray was rake-thin and slouchy, a gangly kid next to the slabbed and ripped power-players of the modern men’s game. For another he was funny and acerbic, with the kind of prickly, questing intelligence that doesn’t often go hand in hand with a tennis childhood spent racking up a million drive-volley practice repetitions.
As he lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2013, members of the crowd in front of him burst into tears
Plus, of course he was British. And ever since the first great Summer of Tim, start of that annual emotional incontinence around the the inevitable collapse of Tim Henman in the late stages of Wimbledon, British tennis had wallowed in its status as an oddly comforting vale of summer tears, a lucrative tableau of almost-but-not-quite home county heroism.
One of the best things about Murray is that he ripped all that up. The 2013 mens’ Wimbledon singles title will remain his defining achievement. Forget the surrounding noise. Forget about being a nice guy, or the perfect example of how to wring every final drop of sweetness from whatever talent your genes have or haven’t given you. Winning that title, 77 years on from the last British champion and at a time when three of the greatest tennis players ever were also operating, remains a genuinely vertiginous sporting achievement.
In the moment of victory Murray dropped his racket and yelled, mouth agape, into the nearest face in the crowd before crumpling on to the sun-bleached grass. If he was overcome, briefly, then this was understandable given the many layers of skin shed along the way, the ascetic, violently punishing nature of his journey to that moment, the end point of which sees him needing surgery on his hip just to regain the ability to walk without serious pain.
Also fitting was the grimly fascinating collection of VIPs there to cheer him on, among them David Cameron, Ed Miliband and, of course, Alex Salmond, waving a vast Scottish saltire just behind the royal party. Even this seems decidedly Murray. If there is a defining note to his elite career it is the constant battle to find his own way through the disorientating gravity around him, remaining throughout decisively and productively himself.
The single-mindedness is there even in his quietly unyielding advocacy for equality of the sexes in sport. Murray didn’t appoint Amelie Mauresmo, the first high-profile female coach in any major global male sport, to garner approval points. He did it because she was the best person available. He didn’t publicly defend Mauresmo’s appointment out of a desire to make her gender an issue: he defended her because lazy thinking, prejudice, and judging on anything other than merit is something he finds entirely illegal and counterproductive.
Even in the moments after he’d lost to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in 2017, a significant staging post in his own grand slam career, he couldn’t help coming back to this. As an American journalist gushingly congratulated Querrey on his status as “the first American player” to reach a Wimbledon semi-final in eight years, Murray could be heard interjecting, deadpan, not once but twice with the words “male player”.
This isn’t virtue signalling: it’s accuracy signalling, human merit-signalling. Murray loves and venerates the great players of his time, from Roger to Serena to Novak to Venus, sees only talent and character and human meritocracy. So often during his years at the top his deeds and words have made feminism in sport look less like an ideological choice, more like the only logical position of anyone with half a brain and a shot of basic integrity.
Murray applied this same emotional honesty to the single biggest challenge of his sporting life. To win Wimbledon as a Brit, and beyond that a Scot, is not simply to win a prestigious tennis tournament. It is to slay an entire circling chorus of invisible dragons. Winning Wimbledon required Murray to meet the weight of those swirling expectations, but also to present himself to that green and yellow arena in a way that retained his own equilibrium, to find just the right emotional pitch.
There has always been an echo of the Jane Austen hero about this, about smouldering Mr Murray’s need to balance a tension around his own desire for victory, and Wimbledon’s own needy emotional hauteur. Something of the Wimbledon atmosphere still speaks to class and privilege and sex too, a sport whose rhythms and texture were born out of flannel-trousered country house filtration, something that perhaps explains why so many members of the crowd spend most of their time there tittering and giggling.
For a while there was talk of Murray’s emotional frigidity, the need to shed his Celtic chill and embrace a more unbound engagement with that flushed and draining centre court crowd.
But forbidding Mr Murray did seduce the crowd, turning its strange, distracting energy to his own ends. His Mr Darcy in the duckpond moment came the year before he finally won it. There was some surprise when Murray burst into tears at the end of his 2012 defeat to Roger Federer. But Murray came back the next year leaner and more shark-like and looking utterly relaxed. Oddly enough, as he lifted the trophy in 2013 it was not Murray but members of the crowd in front of him who burst into tears.
He may or may not be back at Wimbledon this summer. No doubt he would love to return. But those who know will tell you he probably preferred New York. What happens in the post-Murray void will be fascinating to see. Wimbledon’s own surging profits have been been built on a recent lineage of A-list British tennis stars, from Tim to Andy.
But this is far from the most significant hole Murray leaves, as he will most likely next week. He would depart a three-time Grand Slam winner, 14th on the all-time tournament list, perhaps the greatest British athlete of his time; above all a startlingly fond, likeable presence; and that rare thing, a genuine sporting grownup.